What Ronald McDonald can teach us about office design

McDonalds1As the UK continues to agonise over the potentially equine provenance of many of its beef products, one firm that has managed to stay above it all is McDonald’s. While rivals Burger King quickly became embroiled in the scandal after traces of horsemeat were found in its Burgers, McDonalds ramped up its claims in the national media that it only uses 100 per cent beef. McDonald’s has had a pretty good couple of years, and not all of it is down to the food. During 2012, the company spent $1.45bn this year on giving 2,400 stores a makeover. It claims that it has now revamped 90 per cent of its UK stores.

Analysts have pinpointed this as one of the reasons for the business’s enduring success. So gone are the naff signs, fluorescent lights and plastic seats, replaced by sofas, communal benching and free wi-fi. (It seems to have a particular predilection for seating ‘inspired’ by the designs of Arne Jacobsen – something that manufacturer Fritz Hansen took exception to a few years ago.)What this all represents is an acknowledgement of something businesses all over the world are either aware of or should be; that the look or ‘feel’ of their premises can affect not only their perceived image, but also their profits.

A McDonald's revamp featuring some inspired and familiar looking chairs

A McDonald’s revamp featuring some inspired and familiar looking chairs

This has always been something that companies – particularly larger ones – have been aware of intuitively. It’s particularly evident in front offices, the face of the firm, where expensive materials, commissioned artwork and shorthand designer touches such as the ubiquitous Barcelona chair convey unmistakeable and instant ideas of success, style and refinement in the minds of even lay visitors.

In any case, we’ve all got much better at designing ways of getting the right image across through an interior. Ostentatious displays of corporate ID, the fabled logo in the carpet, are out for most firms. Instead subtlety is all, modest displays of corporate values, from ethics to financial solidity, creative verve to power and influence, all flecked with the corporate palette of colour.

While first impressions undoubtedly count for a lot, smart businesses realise that there’s no point simply creating an attractive reception area if the rest of the building is static, dated and uninspiring. What goes for the front office must be apparent in the back, especially if you want your employees to be on-message.

This is about more than helping employees to create the right impression for the organisation, but also helps them feel part of things, helping them feel better about the place they work.

It used to be the case that McDonald’s wanted people to eat and then get lost. Hard chairs, cold colours, air-conditioning too high, all designed to get you to stuff your burger and fries down then free the seat for somebody who was spending some money, not just sitting there.

What is apparent in McDonald’s is apparent in offices. But firms aren’t just doing this out of altruism, of course. Just as a happy customer is a spending customer, a happy worker is a productive worker.

But the approach to achieving these aims must demonstrate joined up thinking to work. Product, culture, image and design must be inextricably and logically linked. Ronald McDonald has something to teach us all about the benefits of changing our surroundings in the right way.